Unipolar Depression:
Does It Affect Memory

By M. Chris Wolf, PH.D.

Unipolar depression is a disturbance in mood characterized by a loss of energy, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, disruption in sleep patterns, crying spells without an apparent reason, and difficulty in concentration and memory. This type of depression differs from bipolar depression in that there are not the mood swings into a hypomanic or manic state. Mania is defined as a mood state where the person has extreme amounts of energy, inflated self-worth, poor judgment, hypersexuality, spending binges, and, in some case, aggressiveness.

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Diagnoses that are examples of unipolar depression include dysthymia, a chronic form of depression in which is longer in duration but less severe than aMajor Depressive Episode. A Major Depressive Episode is a significant disruption in mood causing a slowdown in physical energy; impairment in concentration and memory, a tendency to view situations in negative light, extreme feelings of sadness, hopeless and helplessness; thoughts of harming oneself; changes in appetite; and changes in sleep patterns. Major Depressive Episodes last more than six weeks and need professional intervention.

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How Unipolar Depression Affects Memory

Depression can affect memory in the following ways:

The person only remembers negative experiences or interprets memories as being negative or sad;

The person has difficulty forming new memories due to inattention and difficulty in concentration;

The person has difficulty in recalling information.

The impact depression has on memory can actually support the feelings of low self-worth as the person sees the impairment in memory as reinforcing the perception, "Everything is wrong with me." For this reason, treatment of the depression is essential as well as therapeutic interventions to help cope with the memory impairment associated with depression.

Treatment of Depression

The most effective means of treating depression involves both medication as well as psychotherapy. Medications used to treat depression include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), for example, Prozac and Zoloft, and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI), for example, Effexor and Cymbalta, in addition to the older tricyclic antidepressants (Elavil). These medications take about four to six weeks to reach full effect and it sometimes takes some trial and error to get the right medication. These medications can lessen someone the memory impairment associated with depression.

Psychotherapy is essential in the treatment of depression in order to break the pattern of negative thinking that is characteristic of this disorder. During the course of therapy, memories are reinterpreted to be more positive. Additionally, the therapist assists the person in developing coping techniques to address the memory effects of depression.

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For more information about this topic consider these resources:

The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression: A Step-by-step Program (Workbook) [Paperback]Bill Knaus Ed.D. (Author), Albert Ellis Ph.D. (Foreword

Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn't Teach You and Medication Can't Give You [Kindle Edition]Richard O'Connor (Author)


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